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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 21 November 2019

Agenda: Point of Order, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Day, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Television Licences (Over-75s), Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Contents


Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body question time. I will try to get as many members in as possible, but we have a lot of questions.


Wi-fi Service (Access)

1. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what steps it is taking to ensure that there is access to the wi-fi service across all of the estate. (S5O-03813)

David Stewart (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body supports the growing requirement for wi-fi in Holyrood and is constantly looking to improve the coverage, capacity, security and performance of our wi-fi network across the campus.

We have recently implemented a widely available Scottish Parliament corporate wi-fi network, which will allow us to prioritise the wi-fi traffic of members and staff and improve security and speed. Next year, we will look at refreshing the wi-fi infrastructure around the building. That will involve replacing the 169 access points that are currently used to deliver wi-fi, as well as conducting a survey to identify and address areas of the building where there might be gaps in wi-fi coverage or a weak signal.

Due to the layout of the building and the high proportion of concrete, it has always been a challenge to ensure good coverage everywhere. In the meantime, if members come across any area where they believe that there is limited coverage, they should please let the IT helpdesk know so that the issue can be investigated and resolved.

Mary Fee

Given the steps that have been taken to improve wi-fi coverage across the parliamentary estate, will any work be done to improve mobile phone coverage?

David Stewart

Because of the poor mobile signal that is available within the Holyrood building, additional infrastructure has been installed to enhance mobile coverage for the Parliament’s mobile network provider, EE. Although that set-up does not provide blanket coverage, it enhances the mobile signal in key areas, such as the garden lobby, members’ offices, the ground-floor meeting rooms and the car park. In addition, improved wi-fi coverage within the building will limit the impact of the reduced mobile signal, as Parliament-provided phones, as well as phones from many other network providers, support wi-fi calling, which allows calls and other data services that have traditionally used mobile networks to instead use wi-fi networks.


Remote Voting and Videoconferencing

2. Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what consideration it has given to introducing remote voting and videoconferencing options for members. (S5O-03810)

Andy Wightman (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

Those are two distinct but connected issues. On voting, chapter 11 of the Parliament’s standing orders sets out arrangements for voting in the chamber and in committees. Any proposal to change those arrangements is a matter for the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to consider in the first instance.

Videoconferencing is used by the Parliament’s committees to allow witnesses to participate in meetings remotely, and facilities are available in committee room 1. In addition, a variety of other options are available to individual members, ranging from room-based options at Holyrood to applications on mobile devices.

If the member has particular technical requests, the business information technology office would be happy to discuss the best options to meet her specific concerns.

Gail Ross

We pride ourselves on being a family-friendly Parliament. In reality, it is only family friendly if a member lives close enough to go home after decision time.

During the summer recess, I was asked by a constituent why I have to spend so long in Edinburgh during the week—sometimes, as with this week, from Monday to Friday—and I was unable to give her a satisfactory answer.

Will the members of the corporate body agree to explore options for how members can spend more time in their constituencies, representing people in the manner that they rightly expect?

Andy Wightman

We certainly understand the challenges that face members who live a long way from Edinburgh.

I reiterate that participation in parliamentary business in committees and the chamber is covered in chapter 11 of standing orders, so issues in that regard would be more appropriately addressed by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments committee. However, the corporate body stands ready to assist in any way that it can in providing resources to support members to participate in parliamentary business.

I acknowledge what the member says. There might be ways—for example, by approaching committee conveners—of making particular arrangements for members to contribute remotely. However, that is a matter for committees. Wider matters relating to parliamentary business are for standing orders.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is a short supplementary from Jenny Marra.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The House of Commons has put in a system for proxy voting. I am thinking of the votes that I and a member of the corporate body lost while we were on maternity leave. All being well, I have another of those periods of leave coming up. Will the corporate body consider a proxy voting system for the Scottish Parliament?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That was not directly related to the question, but Mr Wightman may give a very short answer.

Andy Wightman

Again, that is related to voting, which is a matter for the Parliament’s standing orders and, as such, not for the corporate body.


Parliamentary-funded Publications (Rules)

3. Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, with reference to its policy that does not permit parliamentary-funded publications to be issued within three months of a United Kingdom parliamentary general election or referendum, and, in light of the frequency of such events since 2015, whether it plans to revise its rules in this regard. (S5O-03807)

Liam McArthur (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

The corporate body has considered its policy twice during this session of Parliament in relation to UK general elections and the issuing of publications, most recently prior to issuing the current guidance to members in relation to the use of resources during a UK election. The corporate body does not currently have any plans to further review its rules in that regard.

Christine Grahame

That is a disappointing answer. In 2015, we had a general election; in 2016, we had a Scottish Parliament election and the European Union referendum; in 2017, we had a UK election and local elections; and, in 2019, we have had a European Parliament election, and now we have a general election. If I multiply four times three, that is 15—sorry, 12; I beg your pardon—months. Strike that from the record. I will never live this down. If I multiply four times three, that makes 12 months in purdah. It is only six weeks in Westminster, so why do we not make it six weeks here and be sensible?

Liam McArthur

I confirm that I share Christine Grahame’s sense of exasperation at the number of elections and referenda that we have gone through in recent times. It is such that it has knocked her off kilter in terms of her mental arithmetic.[Laughter.]

The corporate body recognises that it is important for constituency and regional members to be able to communicate with their constituents. There are a wide variety of ways in which members can do that.

Concerns have been raised about complaints being made about MSPs and their use of parliamentary resources during election periods. However, it is important to point out that members are still able to issue to a defined list of constituents specific communications of local interest on urgent or time-sensitive matters that are not part of any wider political campaign.

It would probably be sensible to avoid making too many direct comparisons between the arrangements at Westminster and those at this Parliament, because this Parliament has a very good track record in supporting and, indeed, funding communications that MSPs send out to their constituents.


Cross-party Groups (Support)

4. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what arrangements are in place to allow cross-party groups to access support such as British Sign Language interpreters or translation services for meetings. (S5O-03812)

Ruth Davidson (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

The SPCB is committed to providing support for people requiring BSL or other language interpreters or translation services for parliamentary business. However, cross-party groups, despite their importance, are not a formal part of parliamentary business, and the SPCB’s responsibilities to ensure the provision of resources for parliamentary purposes do not currently extend to CPGs.

Section 6 of the “Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament” makes it clear that CPGs may use the Parliament’s facilities only where those

“are available for public use”.

It also says that

“Groups may not draw on the resources of the Parliamentary staff to service meetings other than to book meeting rooms”.

If approached, the public information office can provide guidance and advice for members or the groups themselves on how to contact potential providers, including advice on points to note when arranging translation or interpretation.

Claire Baker

My office has sought advice from the Parliament a number of times on the issue, and I accept that the Parliament does not provide support for cross-party groups and that I cannot use the members’ allowance scheme. However, one of the cross-party groups that I convene required the services of a BSL interpreter and we had difficulty in securing support for that, meaning that a member of the group was potentially excluded from attending the meeting. Will the corporate body consider whether that is appropriate for an open and inclusive Parliament? Will it perhaps reflect on and consider the provision of services that support access and whether to allow extending them in exceptional circumstances to cross-party groups?

Ruth Davidson

I agree with the member that CPGs do excellent work. We seek to have the widest possible inclusion in those groups, but to change how they are staffed and provisioned would require a change to the code of conduct. Any changes to the code of conduct are a matter for the whole Parliament, subject to a report and a recommendation by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

If the member wants to pursue that route, she should take the matter up with the convener of the SPPA Committee in the first instance. She may wish to note that, during the previous session, the SPPA Committee considered the issue of resources for CPGs and consulted the SPCB—albeit in a different iteration from the one that sits before members now. The SPPA Committee then agreed that it did not wish to extend the provision of services to groups.


Flu Vaccinations (Contractor Staff)

5. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what plans it has to make provision in future years to offer the flu vaccination to its contractor staff. (S5O-03772)

Liam McArthur (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

As part of the initiative to promote a healthier workplace, the SPCB offers staff and MSPs’ staff the opportunity to be vaccinated against seasonal flu, free of charge. The service is provided through our contract with the Parliament’s occupational health provider, and is in line with good employment practices adopted by many public and private organisations. The service is also offered to MSPs, for which there is a charge.

Although the SPCB can encourage good employment practices by its contractors through its procurement frameworks, it is not for the SPCB to determine those or to interfere in the employment relationship that contractors have with their staff. Accordingly, there is no plan to offer flu vaccination to contractor staff based in the Parliament.

Miles Briggs

Dave Stewart, as a member of the Health and Sport Committee, will know the importance of herd coverage when it comes to flu vaccinations. Many people working in the Parliament are contractor staff. In order to progress the issue, is there the potential to undertake a review, to look at whether they can access the service in the future?

Liam McArthur

Miles Briggs makes a reasonable point about herd immunity, and it is in everyone’s interest that we work in a healthy environment. I think that I can offer to undertake that we will have discussions with contractors, but I do not think that we can move away from the responsibility of employers towards their staff; I also think that there would be strict limitations in the terms of our procurement contract.

I certainly give an undertaking to explore the issue further, to ensure that we have the best possible working environment.


Two-factor Authentication System (Disabled People)

6. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what provisions have been made for disabled people who are unable to use the fingerprint scanners that have been installed as part of the two-factor authentication service at the entrances to the complex. (S5O-03811)

Andy Wightman (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

The two-factor authentication system involves users presenting an authorised identification card and matching it to an encrypted finger template—not a fingerprint—that is held on the card.

On accessibility, the security and maturity programme team consulted ParliAble, the Parliament’s disability staff network, as part of the project to introduce the two-factor authentication system. The network assisted by raising awareness of potential adjustments that were required prior to roll-out. Those adjustments were accepted and acted on before the system was fully installed. The team also carried out an equality impact assessment.

As new groups of passholders have been rolled on to the system, the programme team continues its approach of asking any staff or any members who have accessibility issues to be early adopters. Once issues have been identified, the team will work with individuals to establish what reasonable adjustments can be made to facilitate their entry into the building, while, of course, maintaining the security of the building perimeter.

Jeremy Balfour

I give credit to the programme team for the consultations that it has had with me. Does Andy Wightman agree that the policy should be to have an entrance available for disabled people who cannot go through that process? Perhaps the Canongate entrance is the most obvious one to use—where no reasonable adjustments can be made—as we do not want to discourage people with certain disabilities from joining this Parliament for whatever reason.

Andy Wightman

I welcome the fact that the member has had very constructive engagement with parliamentary staff. The member is correct. The Canongate accessible entrance is available to anyone with accessibility issues. It was recently modernised. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is always there.

However, I stress that, on future proofing the two-factor authentication system, reasonable adjustments have to be made in the context of the individual needs of members and staff, and that will be the principal focus. As a fall-back, members for whom a reasonable adjustment cannot be made will continue to be able to use the existing system to get into the building. That is always available as an option for members, where reasonable adjustments cannot be made.


Two-factor Authentication System (Use by Members)

7. John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body how many members have had their fingerprints taken for the two-factor authentication system for access to the complex. (S5O-03808)

Andy Wightman (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body)

First, the members have had their fingerprints taken for the two-factor authentication system, but the fingerprints are not stored on the card. A template is used, and a low-resolution aspect of that is stored on the card. It is important that those fingerprints are not stored by Parliament or anybody else.

In answer to John Mason’s question, I confirm that, as of 19 November, 52 members have had their finger templates taken and been enrolled in two-factor authentication. A further six members are booked to enrol.

John Mason

I thank the member for that answer. Can he assure us that members will be treated as strictly as staff? If staff are expected to fit in with the system, members should be, too.

Andy Wightman

Yes, I can give him that confirmation. At a recent corporate body meeting, it was agreed that Easter recess in 2020 will be the cut-off date for building users to enrol in two-factor authentication. Subject to what I said to Jeremy Balfour about particular circumstances, after that date, single-factor entry to the Parliament building via the external turnstiles will not be permitted. All staff and members will be treated equally and will require to use the two-factor authentication. If any member or staff member chooses not to, they will have to use the public entrance.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I cannot call any more questions, but Ruth Maguire could ask a supplementary question, which relates to John Mason’s question—the question that Ms Maguire was going to ask could be seen as a supplementary question to the question that we have just had.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

Okay. I will give it a bash, Presiding Officer.

My question related to accessibility and people participating in parliamentary processes. Recently, at a committee meeting, I had difficulty in obtaining an electronic note taker for a witness. I was fortunate that a clerk was able to step in. Will the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body consider what more can be done to make sure that we do not exclude potential witnesses from our Parliament?

Andy Wightman

I thank Ruth Maguire for that supplementary question.

The corporate body is committed to meeting the needs of all its users and has access to a range of communication support, such as British Sign Language interpreters. For example, if someone is required to give evidence to a committee, we will ask in advance whether they have additional communication needs, because we want to make it easy for everyone to engage in this Parliament. We continue to work hard to improve accessibility.

We are constrained by the fact that there is a finite skills pool of BSL interpreters, palantypists and electronic note takers. It is not always possible to secure them, particularly at short notice. The Parliament wants to fulfil its duties to make sure that everyone can communicate effectively with it. In the instance that the member talked about, a member of staff stepped in as a replacement for a professional note taker. Although that was not ideal, I hope that it was a useful effort.